A CHANGE IN MY LIFE
When I started teaching English as a non-native speaker, I had been working as an accountant for many years. In fact, I have a degree in business management because when I had to decide my future at high school before going to university, I did not have any good advice from my tutor at that time. I wanted to study English philology because I have always loved teaching and I am in love with the English language. I remember playing with my cousins pretending I was their teacher when we gathered for family celebration. But my tutor told me that there were a lot of teachers and translators so he suggested I should pick something that could help me find a job easily in the future. However, I never felt comfortable doing accountancy or boring administrative tasks. I hated figures. So, when in my last job, I was made redundant, I planned to redirect my career and I took my first teaching course at TEFL Barcelona.
BEING AN ENGLISH TEACHER IN SPAIN
In Spain teaching English as a non-native speaker is difficult. It is believed that being an English teacher when your mother tongue is Spanish is not as effective as being a native teacher. In fact, it could be true in some aspects but the real truth from my point of view is that being a teacher is much more than just teaching a subject. Everyone probably could be a teacher but not everybody knows how to transmit the information. You must be a good communicator to encourage your students to learn. That is why I reckon that working as a teacher is vocational. In addition, Spanish teachers that teach English deal with a lot more problems than native teachers. You have to continuously prove your level of fluency in the language; you have to keep yourself updated every day and train as much as you can. The effort is considered higher as you must keep up a good knowledge of English. Even some people constantly assess teachers in order to assure that they have a high level of English. To succeed at teaching English as a non-native speaker you must work well under pressure. If as an ordinary teacher you have to manage all kinds of stuff such as troubled students, working long hours, having meetings with parents, a full schedule in general and prepare homework and exams, imagine if, besides that, you are tested on a daily basis as a walking dictionary! It is incomprehensible that if you do not know every word in your own language, why should I know everything in English? The most important thing is seeing your students learning and checking their progress after classes. And of course, the recognition and the results obtained from a job well done.
I can say I am a lucky person. I am working in what I love most but I have had to work hard all my life to get where I am and I am still constantly working on it. I have always been studying English. After getting my TEFL certificate I needed to find a job. And as I mentioned here in Spain it is not easy if you are a non-native speaker with no teaching experience. On top of that you need certificates to work anywhere.
But I had studied English for years at a local private language school where I live. So, I went and asked the manager, who had been my English teacher, if she needed an English teacher. Luckily, to my surprise, the answer was positive and she offered me a job helping some students with their English homework from school. And I started to work one hour and a half a week. It was not much money and obviously not too much work but at least it was my first contact with a class, with a student in a real place from the perspective of a teacher. My boss always bets on local teachers because the native teachers spend one year in Spain and then they leave, and she has to rebuild the timetable and again show a new teacher how the school works. This is the reason why she has a permanent team in which the oldest teacher has been working for her for 25 years. And all of us are Spanish except one.
I have now worked here for 10 years and I have learnt a lot over this time. I teach young learners, from 5-year-olds to teens, and from elementary level to First Certificate. I also prepare them for the other Cambridge exams. I have done training courses not only in English but also several courses focused on how to teach and be a good teacher. I attend workshops every year in order to learn new ways of teaching and new ideas to use in class. And my goals are to continue with my education in this area and to try to improve my classes to make them fun and enjoyable.
Some years ago, a new project was offered to me. A company in charge of several courses subsidised by the government contacted me through LinkedIn to to offer the opportunity of teaching adults who were unemployed. Until that moment, my experience was only based on teaching kids and teens so it was a challenge for me. I really fancied doing it because I needed to widen my path in education. It meant much more work because I was working in the other school as well in the afternoons, but I knew it was a chance to enter the world of teaching adults. And I really love it! probably more than teaching kids or teens. At present, I have been working there for four years. I am the oldest teacher there as this company did not have English courses before. I have taught levels from A1 to B2 but nowadays I am focused on giving classes at levels B1 and B2 mainly.
My first course was hard because I had to face a new way of teaching as my students were adults, my English classes were almost four hours every day from Monday to Friday, the books used in class were new to me and the most challenging thing was that I had to get my students to pass their Cambridge exams. So, I had to create new lesson plans for my classes, something attractive to encourage my new adult students, create fun activities, stimulating tasks and also design exams. The first year was difficult and it was like a training course; I saw changes I had to make in order to better adapt to my classes. In the following courses I have checked that the effort I put in in my daily tasks has given good results. I feel very proud of myself because I have seen how happy my students feel when they finish their course, see their progress and get a certificate. We spend a lot of time together and I look at their faces and I know they are having fun in class. They give me feedback about the classes; they thank me for my help. In each course, I have met beautiful people, some of whom are my friends today. Although some of these students are living in difficult situations, the time we share is unforgettable.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TEACHING ADULTS AND KIDS
The difference between teaching adults and kids is evident. But they have something in common that is they need to learn through play. I think it is the best method to study a language. However, the games must be adapted for each age. Very young kids need dynamic activities which they can take part in, which they feel are part of a competition, vocabulary games such as spelling words or writing. Easy listening activities with images or pictures and of course simple speaking conversations to enable students to build a short dialogue.
Adults, on the other hand, need challenging goals, pair work activities are useful. Listening and speaking are the hardest skills they have to deal with, so watching films in the original language is also a great tool for learning, so is creating conversations for real situations or playing games in teams around a particular topic. The students, without being aware that they are learning, are learning much more than by studying from a book or taking notes on grammar. Of course, the students need to know the grammar rules but playing games is an effective way to understand the issue better.
In conclusion, studying is always difficult, it does not matter if it is studying a language or some other subject, but the thing is, the more you practise, the more you will learn, and if you are lucky to have a good teacher, it will be more productive. The role of the teacher is very important to guide and support the learning of a student.
By Eva Peña